If you’re interested in learning more about Black history in Savannah and find yourself exploring the Plant Riverside District, you might enjoy checking out the Martin Luther King, Jr. bust. It’s located in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, which can be found at the far northern end of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

There’s a wee bit of controversy about the statue, though!

Profile of the Martin Luther King, Jr. bust on a pedestal in Savannah, Georgia

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MLK Statue in Savannah

Believe it or not, the bust is the first one in Savannah honoring the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it wasn’t erected until January 15, 2022. (That would have been King’s 93rd birthday, had he lived to see the day.)

Here are a few reasons why I find it surprising that it took so gosh-darn long for anyone in Savannah to dedicate a statue to Dr. King:

  • The demographic makeup of Savannah is 52.76% African American, according to current U.S. Census QuickFacts results. The city is primarily Black and has been for decades.
  • There’s no doubt Dr. King was one of the most well-known Civil Rights activists of our time.
  • Dr. King visited Savannah on multiple occasions. He even practiced his “I Have a Dream” speech at Second African Baptist Church on Greene Square.
  • In 1964, King declared Savannah “the most desegregated city south of the Mason-Dixon line” (or so this Historic Marker claims.)

Hear me out…

There’s a statue on River Street honoring a lovesick lady whose grand contribution to Savannah was waving a towel at passing ships. Yet another riverfront statue looks eerily similar to the “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood emblem on a Rolls-Royce. The nearby Savannah bridge is named after an openly racist former governor of Georgia.

Someone please tell me how any of those items were a higher priority than a memorial recognizing one of this nation’s top advocates for equality?

All I can say is… it’s about time Dr. King got his slice of waterfront property.

After all, the man helped inspire the Voting Rights Act of 1965, fought to end legal segregation in the United States, and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

Pedestal of the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue in Savannah with a summary of his accomplishments etched in stone

Controversy Over the Statue

Now, just because we finally have a statue honoring Dr. King doesn’t mean everyone in the city is crazy about it. In fact, it raised quite a stir when it was finally unveiled.

The main issue is that the bust doesn’t really look like Martin Luther King, Jr.

It resembles him somewhat, but it isn’t as spot-on as it could be — especially when viewing it from the front. (It looks a little more like him from the side view.)

Plenty of surly comments and memes were circulated on social media calling the bust, well… a huge bust. I even felt a little sorry for the artist, Italian sculptor Franco Castelluccio.

(Not too sorry, though, since he seems to stay busy creating commissioned pieces for the Kessler collection of hotels in Savannah. For example, he also created “The Immortal,” which is a Ludwig von Beethoven piece that sits inside the lobby of the JW Marriott Plant Riverside.)

As with many things in Savannah, it’s hard to please everyone. Haters gonna hate — and they’re usually pretty vocal about their displeasure.

Maybe one day Black creators in Savannah will have a better opportunity to create public art that honors some of the city’s top African American leaders. I happen to think a W.W. Law statue would be a welcome addition to the city.

Your Thoughts on the Statue?

If you happen to visit the MLK bust, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. Does it look enough like him? Were you moved by the statue? What other public art would you like to see in the city?

If you want to learn more about Black history in Savannah, I always suggest taking a tour with a local — and preferably someone with Gullah-Geechee roots. This is the one I recommend.

Where is the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue located?
Address: 500 W River Street, Savannah, GA 31401
Hours: Open year round
Restrooms: Available at the nearby JW Marriott Plant Riverside

What else is in the area?
African American Family Monument | 0.2 miles
Plant Riverside District | 0.0 miles
City Market Savannah | 0.3 miles

Show me more like this!
Black History Tours in Savannah: Which Ones are Best?

If you have any questions about the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue in Savannah, please let me know in the comments below.